Packer May Seek Equity, Partners for Cattle Business

AUSTRALIA - James Packer, Australia's richest man, may seek partners or private equity funds for his family cattle company Consolidated Pastoral Co. to help fund any future expansion as demand for beef grows in countries such as China.
calendar icon 12 February 2007
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``Now is the time to do it because there is so much interest and there's quite a bit of cash around,'' Ken Warriner, managing director of Northern Territory-based Consolidated Pastoral, said Feb. 9. Australia is the world's second-largest beef exporter.

Packer has already teamed up with buyout firm CVC Asia- Pacific Ltd., selling half of Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd.'s media assets into a joint venture and raising A$4.5 billion ($3.5 billion). Macquarie Bank Ltd., Australia's largest securities firm, is setting up a fund to buy sheep and cattle ranches to meet rising meat demand in China and India.

``You would have to think with all the private equity money around, some of it is going to go into the agricultural sector,'' said John Welsh, a research analyst at BBY Ltd. in Sydney. There's ``a lot of interest from fund managers into a possible move into the rural sector in Australia,'' particularly from Asia, he said.

Consolidated Pastoral, Australia's second-largest cattle rancher, was formed in 1983 when Kerry Packer, James's father bought Newcastle Waters Station in the Terriroty. The group's 16 properties in four states, cover more than 10 million acres of land, or an area bigger than Maryland.

Shares of Publishing & Broadcasting fell as much as 16 cents, or 0.8 percent, to A$20.28 on the Australian Stock Exchange, and traded at A$20.42 at 3:21 p.m. Sydney time.

Cattle Boost

The company is aiming to boost cattle numbers by about 10 percent to 280,000 in two years, and is looking to split its ranches from its meat-processing and live cattle-exporting businesses, Warriner said.

``We could possibly take equity in from other partners, and depending how substantial they are, we could very easily go on to grow the thing a lot more,'' he said in an interview in Brisbane in Queensland state. ``It's just on the radar. It's in discussion between the current owners.''

Offers by buyout firms rose to a record $33.4 billion in Australia last year from $1.9 billion during all of 2005, according to Bloomberg data. That's part of the more than $730 billion that leveraged buyout firms offered globally, almost triple the amount announced in 2005.

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